David Chamberlain, out golfing on a gorgeous December day in Bodega Bay, wasn't surprised that his coastal village made Business Week magazine's list of the 32 most expensive small towns in America.
"You get what you pay for. It's wonderful," Chamberlain said, gesturing toward the lush green 18th fairway on The Links at Bodega Harbour, the blue Pacific Ocean, sandy Doran Beach and the sheltered bay for a backdrop.
"I really love it," said Chamberlain, a retiree who's lived next to the eighth tee since 1999.
About 2? miles away, veteran Bodega Bay fisherman Tony Anello stood in front of his home and crab company next to Spud Point Marina, his boat, Annabelle, berthed across the road.
"It's heaven on Earth here," said Anello, a retired firefighter.
Sonoma County is practically crawling with charming, photogenic little communities rating high on the livability scale. But what put Bodega Bay, population 1,423, onto Business Week's list was its sky-high property values, inflated by the community's coastal location, location, location.
Homes typically sell for $834,157, the magazine said. A review of home sales this year, likely deflated by the housing slump, showed a median home price of $809,750 -- more than twice the countywide median of $390,250.
Business Week said its list was based on the median home value of towns with no more than 10,000 people. It bent the rules for the sake of geographic diversity, noting that otherwise towns near New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco would have dominated the list.
Two towns in the region joined Bodega Bay on the list of 32: Stinson Beach in Marin County (median home price $1.65 million) and St. Helena in the heart of the Napa Wine Country ($890,361).
Straddling Highway 1 between the ocean and undeveloped coastal hills, Bodega Bay is a picture postcard come to life, with the harbor, a fishing fleet, scenic Bodega Head and two popular waterfront restaurants.
Donna Freeman, a resident for about 50 years, recalled that her first Bodega Bay home cost $10,000 -- in 1962.
Freeman was an extra in Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller, "The Birds," that made Bodega Bay world famous. The shallow bay may also have afforded shelter for English explorer Sir Francis Drake in 1579.
"It's still somewhat pristine," said Anello, who's lived in Bodega Bay for 14 years and fished there since 1970.
There are no traffic lights or tall buildings. A new elementary school sits on a knoll above the bay.
"You have to go at least 25 miles to get into traffic," said Mike Osborne, another Bodega Harbour resident who was golfing Thursday.
A retired surgeon from Marin County, Osborne said he enjoys the easygoing pace and his affable neighbors in the upscale subdivision at the south end of Bodega Bay.
Sleek wood-frame homes, painted in earth tones that match their coastal shrub landscaping, line the wide, curving streets of Bodega Harbour. There are no sidewalks in the immaculate subdivision wrapped around an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
"I love it here," Osborne said.
Full-time residents occupy about one-third of Bodega Harbour's homes, so the place is pretty quiet during the week, he said. The other two-thirds of homes are about equally divided between rentals and second homes.